Democracy on mute

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi -
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi -

THERE are signs in recent times that our democracy has effectively been placed on mute by the approach taken by the Government on a range of issues.

We expect rights and freedoms to be curtailed to some extent during a deadly pandemic, whether through public health laws or the invocation of emergency powers.

However, the Government has failed to treat with an appropriate degree of urgency serious concerns that have been aired relating to the will of the people, the need for transparency, freedom of expression and democratic representation.

Wednesday’s sitting of Parliament was a reminder. The Government, having shut down myriad Opposition queries during a sitting of the Standing Finance Committee by assuring that replies would be circulated on Wednesday, when the budget mid-year review was due to be debated, failed to furnish the replies, citing staffing issues.

This followed UNC MPs airing complaints about being literally muted at the virtual sitting of the committee on Monday, a sitting that was historic and should have been cause for celebration. Instead on several occasions their voices could not be heard.

Then on Wednesday both Minister of Finance Colm Imbert and Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh cited non-disclosure agreements in relation to queries on vaccine procurement, though Mr Imbert at least made an effort to give overall figures.

At the very same sitting, the need to seek legal advice before providing an answer to parliamentary questions was invoked by House Leader Camille Robinson-Regis during Question Time.

The chief legal adviser to the Cabinet himself, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, mere days earlier in Parliament declined to answer questions calling for details relating to legal fees.

Outside Parliament, the disturbing signals abound.

The result of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election has effectively been placed by the wayside: there is no word on a solution to the tie or the proclamation of legislation that would permit a fresh election to be called.

Meanwhile, the central government continues to deal with the management of Tobago’s purse strings by bolstering its budget. There are plans for Tobago’s tourism trade to reopen. There are plans for islandwide vaccination. There are no plans for when and if an election will be held or a THA sitting convened.

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has called for a commission of inquiry into the State’s covid19 management. In ordinary times, such a call would be ill-timed.

However, in light of the Government’s continued instinct to deflect scrutiny and transparency in the appropriate forums, it is little wonder the UNC has felt justified in issuing this call in the first place – even if it is an inquiry that can only occur if the Cabinet agrees.

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"Democracy on mute"

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